Golden Goosen shining bright at Racing

    2016-05-12 07:25

    Lyon - Among the legion of South Africans plying their trade in the French Top 14, Johan Goosen has come to the fore with perfect timing to give a welcome reminder to Springbok selectors.

    Goosen, capped six times by South Africa and still only 23 years old, has thrived this season for Racing 92, his capacity to play across the backline helping in no small part to push the Parisian club towards Saturday's European Champions Cup final against Saracens.

    When the South African arrived at Racing for the 2014-15 season, he played second fiddle to now-departed Ireland No 10 Jonathan Sexton and incumbent full-back Brice Dulin.

    With New Zealand's World Player of the Year Dan Carter and France international playmaker Remi Tales also on their books, and with injuries to the preferred midfield line-ups, Goosen has been pressed into service in the outside centre position.

    And the former Cheetah, who recently extended his Racing contract to 2020, has thrived.

    "I think I have changed but the main thing is that last season I didn't play a lot, but this season I've played a lot more," Goosen said.

    "The team is doing really well at the moment, and if the team is doing really well, everyone's playing well and it's easy."

    Goosen, who made his Springbok debut in 2012 at the age of 20, added: "I'll play in any position as long as it benefits the team.

    "I don't think I've changed my mind really. I'm playing more so it's good for me and I can build on that every week. Last season I played one week on, one or two weeks off and it was difficult to build momentum.

    "I would love to play 10, but at the moment I really love playing centre. This is my first time to play 13, I played 12 once when I was young."

    The Top 14 is not a league for shrinking violets, and Goosen, who outplayed Manu Tuilagi in the semi-final win over Leicester, acknowledged that defence was tough, even with his 1.85m, 89kg build.

    "Defence is difficult, I'm still learning, but playing alongside Alex (Dumoulin), Joe (Rokocoko), Juan (Imhoff) and Dan, they make it easy for me, they're always helping me," the Burgersdorp-born back said.

    "I'm not the biggest guy, but 12 or 13, no problem. You're going to play against big guys, but as long as you focus on your job, you'll do ok."

    Although Goosen struggles with the French language, he said he was beginning to understand a lot more.

    "I've tried to learn the language, but it's still difficult for me. I can understand the coaches, it makes it easier to communicate," said the South African, whose wife recently gave birth to a baby in Paris.

    Racing are enjoying a spectacular season, having trumped three-time winners Toulon in the European Cup quarter-finals and also sitting fourth in the Top 14 virtually assured a place in the end-of-season play-offs.

    "They guys believe in the coaches and the way they want to play, and Dan plays a huge role in that," Goosen said of All Black legend Carter, who has been in his usual imperious form steering the capital club around the paddock.

    "We just gel as a team and we're really good friends, like a bunch of brothers playing for each other.

    "There's a great vibe and everyone respects everyone. There's a lot of good players here and you have to perform to keep your spot in the team and that's why when we train it's at 100 percent."

    Goosen admitted he was wary of Saracens, who boast a host of internationals and are an easy match for any team in Europe.

    "They've got a really good forward pack and really good backline as well. Owen Farrell is a very good player, they've got two very good centres and their wings and fullback are world-class," he said.

    "It's a final game where the best team wins, but I'm looking forward to it. There are a few South Africans in there so we'll have a good beer afterwards!"

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